Index: ASA 37/014/2014
30 October 2014
Sri Lanka: UN review highlights ongoing human rights abuse and impunity
The UN Human Rights Committee review of Sri Lanka has once again highlighted the vast disconnect
between Sri Lanka’s promises to Sri Lankan citizens and the UN to improve human rights protection in
the country and to tackle the grave reality of ongoing abuse and impunity.
On 7 October, the Committee considered Sri Lanka’s fifth periodic report on its implementation of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a key human rights treaty, and asked Sri Lanka’s
delegates for clarifications on important points. Today the Committee made public its Concluding
Observations on that engagement.
The Committee expressed concern about a wide range of human rights issues, including Sri Lanka’s
continued application of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA); impunity for human rights violations by
State and non-State actors; arbitrary arrest and detention, extrajudicial killings; enforced disappearances;
torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, and sexual and gender-based violence against women. It
called on Sri Lanka to end attacks against Christians and Muslims and said Sri Lanka should investigate
and prosecute all reported incidents of violence against ethnic and religious minorities. Amnesty
International welcomes the Committee’s far-reaching recommendations to address these problems and
calls on authorities to move swiftly to fully and effectively implement them.
The Committee also recommended that Sri Lanka repeal the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, and
called on the authorities to protect the safety and independence of its judiciary.
Amnesty International agrees that the 18th Amendment should be repealed. It empowers the President to
appoint and dismiss members of the judiciary and other bodies whose independence and impartiality is
crucial to effective human rights protection. The government has used the 18th Amendment to
consolidate power at the expense of this independence and the impact is felt throughout the justice
system, which does not protect detainees adequately from abuse or deliver justice for violations.
Despite official denials, Amnesty International finds that torture and other ill-treatment of detainees is
rampant. The Committee expressed concern about reports of torture and other ill-treatment, including
sexual violence, of adults as well as juveniles who are arrested or detained. Amnesty International has
received numerous reports of former detainees alleging torture, sometimes sexual, in detention centres
run by police, the army or intelligence services.
The Sri Lankan government has denied the routine use of torture in the country, and has refused to
investigate the widespread reports of the practice or to hold those suspected to be responsible to
account. Sri Lanka should put more effort into actually ending human rights violations and impunity of
perpetrators than it does into defending itself against criticism. The Committee clearly saw through the
government’s repeated denials and empty promises.
For the third time in reviews since 1995, the Committee expressed concern about Sri Lanka’s Prevention
of Terrorism Act (PTA). The Committee noted that provisions of the PTA include restrictions on freedom
of expression and association, arbitrary searches and arrests, prolonged detention without charge or trial,
and the reversal of the burden of proof when detainees allege that they have made confessions as a
result of torture or other ill-treatment.
Amnesty International has documented the Sri Lankan government’s continued use of the PTA to arrest
and detain people without due process and to silence dissent. The PTA also contributes to the
persistence of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in Sri Lanka. Amnesty International has called for itsrepeal.
The Committee also expressed concern over Sri Lanka’s failure to investigate and prosecute perpetrators
of human rights violations, and noted in particular continued lack of effective investigations and
prosecutions of perpetrators in two cases of killings from 2006 in Muttur and Trincomalee. Justice in these
two emblematic cases has long been frustrated.
The failure after eight years to prosecute anyone in the execution-style killings of five students by
members of the security forces in Trincomalee in January 2006 and the massacre of 17 aid workers in
Muttur in August of that year highlights the deep problem of impunity in Sri Lanka.
Link to Concluding Observations: